Sanford Brown, one of the U.S.’s largest for-profit colleges announced in May 2015 that it will stop enrolling students at its remaining 14 campuses and close their doors. The company will focus instead on its university campuses after it gets its last Sanford student out the door within the next 18 months. The school originally had 90 campuses worldwide but due to declining enrollment, was forced to begin closing campuses. How did such a successful for-profit manage to sink?
Sanford Brown’s predatory and misleading enrollment practices landed it in hot water multiple times. August of 2013 saw the school reach a settlement with the state of New York in which it agreed to pay $10.25 million for its unsavory business practices. The lawsuit claimed that Sanford used its predatory practices in advertising to seriously inflate job placement rates in order to entice students to enroll. At the time, the school admitted to no wrongdoing but was also forced to pay $1million penalty included in the overall settlement amount.
That settlement came as a direct result of an investigation launched by the Attorney General of New York in restitution for students who were enrolled during the period of 2009 to 2012. The school closed the doors of its West Allis campus in the spring of 2013, but parent company Career Education Corp., maintained its other 90 campuses for a period of time.
The rumor mill had it that the Milwaukee school was one of the largest diploma mills in operation and student testimony at the hearing revealed they had been outright lied to about their potential for success upon completion of a Sanford program. Not only were the students lied to, regulatory boards which accredited the school were also lied to about job placement success in order to maintain their accreditation status. The school advertised that it had 55-80% job placement success depending on the program, but in reality, these numbers were 24-64%.
Career services employees were alleged to have been receiving bonuses based on job placement rates they reported. As such, they were encouraged to manipulate the data by listing students as successfully placed when they attended a one-day health fair or were working at minimum wage jobs in unrelated fields. The fudged numbers allowed Sanford to keep its accreditation, which in turn, allowed them to receive federal student loans and increase their profits substantially. If that wasn’t bad enough, the settlement claimed that Sanford and its parent company did not notify students that they would be required to take state licencing exams for many of its programs and that the programs they offered did not prepare students adequately to pass them.
After reaching the settlement, parent company and Sanford tried to improve their reputation by hiring independent auditors to gather data about their placement figures, launched their own investigation which saw the company’s chief executive, Gary McCullough resign, and fired 15 career service representatives. The school also agreed that it would eliminate all programs which were not designed to provide adequate preparation for state licensing exams. Regardless of their efforts, their reputation, and that of the for-profit education sector, has become so damaged that they saw drastic drops in enrollment numbers and were finally forced to close their doors.
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